Tuesday, 3 November 2009

18.1 / Poetic by design / Crystal Campbell

What: Graphic designer and multi-media artist
Where: Lisbon, Portugal
Websites: Crystal Campbell, NearInteraction, Bokkie Shoes, Rosebud&Grumpers, The Earth Is Not Flat and MELD

CrystalCampbell
Why you'd want to know her…
I have a multi-disciplinary approach to my design work and aesthetic and no preference for any creative output over another. I am not a designer that excels in one field, rather, my creativity is somewhat equally spread over several mediums. I call what I do 'poetic design' and I believe this offers a less clichéd form of communication. With poetic design, the meaning of a product or service is more open-ended, the consumer being regarded as an existential curator or co-producer or invited participant. Within the crafting there is a sense in which it begins to embody the personality of it's maker and it's surroundings. I work alongside my partner Diogo Terroso at NearInteraction. The work at NearInteraction is a good example of what I believe the essence of design should be – interacting with all our senses; what you hear, see, touch and feel – to add new levels of complexity to the experience.

CrystalCampbell
The story behind Crystal Campbell…
I grew up in Zimbabwe and lived there for almost twenty years, during what began as a peaceful, prosperous and hopeful period. The year I was born was the year Zimbabwe got its independence – a birth of the new nation still ringing with Bob Marley's idealistic 'Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny' 1980 Zimbabwe Tour. But 29 years later, Zimbabweans still face a future of hyperinflation, corruption, dysfunction, poverty and exclusion. My parents were committed to the Zimbabwean utopia but were, in fact, outsiders – my father's South African and my mother's Dutch, which meant I grew up with this ultra-liberal view of the world, only realising in my teens that the reality was more along the lines of George Orwell's 'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others'.

CrystalCampbell

After living, studying and working as a graphic designer for a few years in South Africa, I moved to Portugal. The cityscape reminds me of Harare in another lifetime and the landscape reminds me of the Western Cape in South Africa, so I feel very at home here. Growing up, my family spent periods of time in Mozambique so perhaps that is another reason why I am so comfortable with Portugal. When I was studying my masters I was living in London's East End but London is too big for me. I like smaller cities, with more trees, more birds, more time for conversation... tea and cakes.

CrystalCampbell

One of the strongest emotional links I carry with me are the Jacaranda lined avenues of Harare. I found them again in Durban where I settled for some time, intuitively searching until I found them again in Lisbon. They are blooming at the moment. I guess growing up in Africa taught me to appreciate simple things like feeling the earth under my feet. I like to be barefoot – something I've found to be quite rare in Europe where people seem frightened to see their sockless feet.
As a child…
I was the perfect bossy older sibling. The games we played were mine, directed by me. My brother was very obliging and the perfect companion for my games. I liked to play make-believe games, play acting, dressing up and telling stories. Sometimes I would become so embedded in the story I would forget reality and find myself crying in empathy for a character who died. My make-believes always had dramatic momentums in them. We had a huge garden with fantastic overgrown areas where we could create my kingdoms. These days I have just finished studying a narrative course at Central Saint Martins. I guess I am still working at creating the perfect story.
She believed she could…
My hands tell the stories of mishaps and adventures. I have never not been holding a pencil, chewing a felt-tip or spilling ink everywhere so design was a natural progression. I always liked to consider how good something looked from an early age. I remember choosing to be an ice-cream man with a bicycle (age six – think of all the ice-creams I would be able to eat), a dolphin trainer (a 12 year old girl inspired by 'Free Willy'), a writer, (I asked for a typewriter for my 14th birthday and was horrified at how much work it was to punch the keys down), a ballet dancing-horse-riding-sewing-machine-stitching-bread-baking-iron-welder-graphic-designer-illustrator-VJ-mother with a penchant for the good things in life. To shock people I used to say I wanted to be a housewife. Just think of all the things I would be able to do all day without anyone telling me what to do I would tell them. That past is my ideal.

CrystalCampbell
Projects in the pipeline…
I am very busy working on my latest project, my seven-week-old son. On the side, I am launching a new range of Bokkie Shoes for the South African World Cup 2010 in February at Design Indaba in South Africa. Rather than simply producing a product, I wanted to visually define Bokkie as a state of mind; a search for the definition of what being South African means and an exploration of the icons that both define our history and hint at our future. This means that my work as the creative director is focused on the juxtapositioning of South African iconography and landscapes.

CrystalCampbell

The past year has also seen a side-project come to an end as VJ's Rosebud&Grumpers, where we designed our 'performances' to be very theatrical, having themed shows, dressing up in character, performing with props specific to the show and the invitation of audience participation. For the Balkanology parties, we produced a series of cooking shows, where we mixed pre-recorded footage with live streaming images of vegetable chopping and food preparation performed live, on-site in the middle of the dance floor.

CrystalCampbell
The joys and lows…
I don't really do one thing or another. I like doing many things and I work in many mediums. I enjoy multi-disciplinary collaborative projects best. The chance to mix and match ideas is a fascinating process. The results, whether good or bad, are always beyond your expectations, and the situation always gives you something to learn and take home. What I dislike is that in general the creative industry is not paid enough for being creative. Being creative is seen as personality trait rather than a skill. We are worth more! Designers unite!

CrystalCampbell
A family and family of friends…
I have an amazing network of supportive friends and family across the world. Coming from a small family means that I have adopted many of my friends into my personal 'family'. As I see it, family is something you can choose. All of my family-friends are creative and their creative outputs endlessly inspire me. Having a close network of musicians, artists and writers has most definitely influenced my career decisions. My parents are both ecologists and I grew up travelling with them in the bush. As they worked I would spend the time seeing things grow, poking insects, climbing huge trees, collecting wild flowers and playing in the long grass. I was also really into the precious National Geographic magazine subscription we had, arriving a month late in a crumpled brown envelope, and would spend hours reading it from cover to cover looking at amazing places and people.
The best advice ever…
'Be good. Do good' was a hippy sticker I had on my fridge during my formative years. The message has remained with me like a kind grandmother's words. Two years ago I had a passing conversation with one of my father's friends about meaningless gestures and how the act of performing a gesture to make yourself feel better about something doesn't actually achieve anything of worth. Think about your actions. One of my college lecturers said to me when I graduated 'Be careful of what you wish for'. I had never heard that before, and it still rings in my ears. I've never been one to remember quotes but I did carry around a quote by Lee Hazlewood in my wallet for about two years – it was about throwing caution to the wind when falling in love. Then I lost the quote and fell in love.


Her keepsakes…
I am a collector of memories, colours, thoughts, smells; a curator of conversations, recipes, moments in time, and a researcher of everything under the sun. For years, I have carried around a postcard from an exhibition in Cape Town that says in simple red Helvetica, 'I want to be famous.' I'm not so sure if I feel like that anymore but I can't possibly throw the card away now. Because I travel so much my collections are memories that live in cardboard boxes which are scattered around the world. They contain random snippets of a lifetime of memories. They are disorganised. They are like time capsules, and I never know what I am going to find in one of them. I used to collect rabbits in all shapes and sizes and for a while I was obsessed with birds. You see these obsessions follow through in my work.

CrystalCampbell
When the inspiration runs dry…
I don't push myself. If I'm not in the mood I simply don't do it. In the short term, if you have a deadline for a really boring logo, green tea and cookies work magic. I am always inspired by something or other. I guess being interested in many aspects of design means that there is always something I am thinking about. Inspiration comes as a result of my inquiring nature. You can see layout design in the mangled wires of the telephone poles, logos in the mis-matching of the tiles in the street and potential in the blooming flowers.
A few of her favourite things…
A set of four precious books are my soul inspirations – 'The Little Prince', one of the world's best selling books by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, has followed me wherever I go. I first fell in love with the book's wisdom in chapter one when the narrator shows a picture of a boa with an elephant in its stomach, which is perfectly clear to the Little Prince, but says it is a drawing that adult viewers always mistake for a hat. 'The Velveteen Rabbit' is a 1920's book from my childhood by Margery Williams, a tale of a stuffed rabbit and his quest to become real through the true love of his owner. 'Be Here Now' is by Ram Dass who was this guy who took a lot of LSD with Timothy Leary in the early 1970's. Then they did a super LSD experiment to see how high they could get and after three weeks of being high, he decided to become a Buddhist instead. The book though is a vast collection of metaphysical aphorisms (all 410 pages) accompanied by amazing freeform pen illustrations. I flip through and find a random page to read when I don't know what to do next. It always helps.

CrystalCampbell

'Daybreak' is an autobiographical book by Joan Baez, a surprise book, I can't recall how I got to own it. It is an impressionistic, drifting collage of memories, more lyric than prose. 'In the Night Kitchen' is a popular and controversial book illustrated by my favorite illustrator Maurice Sendak. He also wrote and illustrated 'Where the Wild Things Are' too. I think it was made into a movie that was released this year. Controversial only for the fact that Mickey, a boy of about three, spends most of his time in the book totally naked. Both books create a surreal dream-like environment around a young child and I guess this really resonated with me when I first began to read them.
Her favourite websites…
I used to go to a lot of websites and spend a lot of time on the internet. These days I still spend alot of time on the internet but not revisiting – my viewing patterns are more random. I go with the flow, hopping from one website to the next to the next. I view Flickr collections frequently. I am a big fan. I go to Springwise and I use Wikipedia.
In another life…
Rather than backtracking my life, I would like to go back to the medievel days of Robin Hood and be part of the Merry Men crew. I would have to be a man though 'cause in those days the women didn't have much fun, being married off at 14 and forced to wear corsets. I want to ride horses, shoot bow and arrows and run around in green tights robbing the rich and giving to the poor.

CrystalCampbell
Inspiring people…
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, widely regarded as South Africa's moral conscience, is my biggest inspiration. 'Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.' Described by Nelson Mandela as 'sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu's voice will always be the voice of the voiceless'. I can't put it any better.
The Motherland…
Africa can always be looked at from either a perspective of positive or negative. Often both tend to ignore the other and perhaps this is because Africa is a continent of extremes. Africa can be the rapid rate of a growing population, the pressure of poverty, the plight of refugees and the pain of loss to AIDS or Africa is a continent of creativity, ingenuity, invention, beauty and humour. It is a mistake to see one without the other but it is state of mind to choose on which you would like to focus. I choose to be optimistic about our futures as we enter a period that is marked by an increase in creativity and a more humanistic approach to all we do, think and create.
Plans right now…
I aim to get back to learning Processing and Portuguese for 2010.
Her dream life…
Breathe in. I see a white studio with full length windows overlooking the Lisbon Tejo river. An uber-mac hums in the corner, a glint of sunshine reflecting off the hard drive. There is a cup of green tea sitting on the corner of the table. Breathe out.
If anyone is interested in doing what she does…
I have three rules that I use, and finally wrote them down one humid evening in New York. They are:
1. If you want something done, do it yourself. (This way it will be done perfectly and quickly.)
2. Don't ask for permission. (Usually you can get away with anything! Especially if you smile.)
3. Make your own rules. (People are always trying to stick to other peoples rules. And what are rules anyway?)

CrystalCampbell

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